Doha is rapidly becoming the cultural capital of the Middle East, with a growing number of museums and galleries showcasing everything from ancient regional artefacts to international contemporary art.
Thanks to the patronage of Qatar’s ruling Al Thani family, Doha has reinvented itself over the past 15 years as a global artistic hub. The result of this massive investment – which goes beyond bricks and mortar to purchasing some of the world’s best-known art pieces – is a series of distinguished museums and galleries that dominate the Doha landscape. There are a dozen more in the planning and construction stages, including a sports museum and one dedicated to Orientalist art, but today you will be dazzled by collections of art and artefacts from across the globe in these eight museums and galleries.
When it opened its doors amid great fanfare in March 2019, this long-awaited museum was an instant hit. The galleries are both informative and immersive, reliving the history of Qatar from prehistoric times to the modern metropolis it is today. The building, designed by Jean Nouvel, reflects a quartz desert rose, lies at the beginning of the Doha Corniche and incorporates the restored Palace of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani. Must-see exhibits include the stunning three-metre (10-foot) Pearl Carpet of Baroda, which is hand-embroidered with 1.5 million pearls, sapphires and diamonds. The museum is free for Qatar citizens and residents and 50 Qatari riyal (£10.88) for visitors, and weekends can be extremely busy. Visit the striking gift shop, with its ceiling and walls of curved wood, modelled on Dahl Al Misfir (Cave of Light), a gleaming cave in central Qatar that is one of the country’s best-known natural landmarks.
The spectacular centrepiece of Qatar’s cultural offering, the Museum of Islamic Art (designed by the late IM Pei) is a work of art in itself. The building is coated with limestone that reflects the sunlight throughout the day and occupies its own island on the Doha Corniche. The museum’s collection spans two millennia and includes pieces from Spain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, India and Central Asia. The first and second floors are of particular interest, holding a permanent exhibit that includes intricate textiles, pottery and glasswork, with one earthenware bowl dating from ninth-century Iraq. The museum’s library, adjacent to the main building, has more than 15,000 rare manuscripts and texts from around the globe, including a Quran from the seventh century. The best time to visit is at sunset to fully take in the space, light and location.
This eclectic museum is the private collection of one of Qatar’s most prominent businessmen. Situated around 45 minutes to the west of Doha, the 15 halls in the labyrinthine complex house more than 15,000 artefacts collected by Sheikh Faisal over the past 50 years. The treasures on display include fossils dating back to the Jurassic period, prehistoric figurines, more than 600 beautifully preserved vintage and veteran cars, textiles (including hundreds of carpets), rare coins and hundreds of Islamic manuscripts and Qurans.
Mathaf means museum in Arabic, and this gallery, housed in a converted school building in Education City on the outskirts of Doha (a regular free shuttle runs from the Museum of Islamic Art), is worth going out of the way to visit. The depth and breadth of modern Arab art are on display here, with works by prominent artists from Iraq, Egypt, Turkey and India in its 9,000-piece collection. Keep an eye out for pieces by Qatari artists including the pioneering Yousef Ahmad, whose moody, large-scale work centres on Arabic calligraphy and lettering. The first floor of the museum displays artwork with themes such as society, family and horoufiyah – the use of Arabic letters and calligraphy in art.
Housed in four historic buildings in the oldest part of Doha and adjacent to Souq Waqif, the Msheireb Museums trace the history and growth of Doha from a small fishing village to today. Bin Jelmood House, Company House, Mohammed bin Jassim House and Radwani House each focus on different aspects of Qatari life and history – the discovery of oil and gas, Qatari traditions and family roles. But it is Bin Jelmood House that is the most evocative and compelling, focussing on the role slavery and human exploitation played in the development of the Persian Gulf countries, including Qatar’s history, particularly pearl diving and the oil industry’s early exploratory days.
The Fire Station is a community-focused creative space that hosts a revolving exhibition venue. Though intimate, the gallery has been home to artistic giants – past exhibits have included the works of Pablo Picasso and Ai Wei Wei – as well as an artist-in-residence programme to nurture local and regional talent. The external walls of the building (once the home of Doha’s fire brigade) feature murals by Qatari artists commemorating the first 100 days of the blockade of Qatar by neighbouring countries and Egypt. The gallery also has a popular café selling coffee and healthy snacks.
Katara Cultural Village, along with its collection of restaurants and shops, is designed to be a hub for art and culture in Doha. The Katara Art Center, supported by local businessman Tariq Al Jaidah, showcases Qatar’s regional artists. On any given day, there could be a pop-up shop from a local designer, a lecture or even a community gathering. Katara is also home to several small exhibition spaces (including a stamp museum), so it’s worth taking the time to explore on foot (or flag down one of the free golf carts).
The privately owned Anima Gallery holds five contemporary art exhibitions a year at its large and airy space on La Croisette at The Pearl Qatar – a man-made island on Doha’s coast. The gallery focusses on local, regional and international contemporary art, with a programme of gallery talks and informal lectures accompanying exhibitions. Previous exhibits have included Lebanese sculptor and painter Nadim Karam and Qatari female conceptual artist Amal Al Aathem. The gallery is also home to Anima Lounge, a bright and airy café with an emphasis on healthy food.